Jesus. I wish I knew Him when He was here. I think we would have had fun together. I know I could have learned a lot from Him. I wonder if I would have believed Him to be the Messiah, or if I, like the religious rulers of the day, would have been offended by His complete disregard for the traditions and rules that I would have held so dear to as a good Jew.
I mean, for somebody who loved God and was focused on following the God-culture that had evolved over the past several thousand years with the people of Israel, I think that falling in love with Jesus would have been a difficult hill to climb. He constantly offended the deeply religious. From healing people on the Sabbath (what?!), to sitting down to deep conversation with a Samaritan (no!) woman (gasp!), to physically evicting the temple merchants (how irreverent!), to spending his time with all kinds of bad people (tax collectors?!) (prostitutes??!), Jesus was definitely hard on the religious experience of those who thought they had it figured out.
On the other hand, I’ve noticed that the people who really were drawn to Him were not usually the good Jews who understood religion and held fast to how things had always been. The people that most connected with Jesus were the wrecked folks. People who knew they were far from God, and understood how desperately they needed help. People that were poor, unworthy, sick, and looked down upon. People who looked at Jesus and instead of seeing a whirlwind, changing things around, knocking things over, stripping religion of its hundreds of layers of complexities and making things far too easy to be holy and true, the people who loved Jesus saw a man, the very Son of God, living with grace and mercy, truth and love.
I imagine the reaction was pretty mixed that day when Jesus simplified the laws and the prophets to just two things: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind. And love your neighbor as yourself.” This idea had actually been mentioned many years before in Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18, but the complexities of holy living had largely considered these ideas as nice, but too simple.
In the crowd that day, some folks hearing these summaries for the first time, I imagine that several people immediately dismissed the idea, thinking to themselves, “Sure, that’s nice, but what about the Sabbath? What about gentiles? What about the unclean? What about synagogue? It’s nice to say, but Jesus clearly doesn’t fully understand the complexities of being holy.”
Meanwhile, others in the crowd embraced Jesus’ words with tears in their hearts and their eyes thinking, “Could it really be this easy? So simple that even somebody like me can remember them and live in a way that's pleasing to God?” Jesus didn’t come to make things hard for us, but He came that whoever believes in Him might have eternal life. And that rubbed some people the wrong way, while to others, it brought hope and joy and new life.
And so that day on the hill called Golgotha, there were once again two sets of people. Some that day mocked Jesus as He died, and rejoiced that this thorn in their flesh was finally gotten rid of and life could get back to normal - the way it was way back in the good old days. Others’ hearts were shattered as they watched this man - for some, the only person to ever show them grace and kindness - as he died a shameful and agonizing death on the cross, from all appearances simply to make the ‘church people’ more comfortable.
I wonder, sometimes, which group I would find myself in had I been there? Would I have been relieved to see this pot-stirrer out of the picture so I could get back to comfortable? Or would I have been devastated as I watched the Son of God - the One who made a way for even me - hanging on that tree?
I do know though, that three days later there were once again two groups of people. One group - almost disbelieving - began to look for a way to cover things up. They had just gotten rid of this man, and now he was alive again? “God in Heaven,” they might have asked, “What did we do to deserve this?”
The other group - equally as in shock as the first group - were filled with joy as slowly, the bigger picture began to dawn on them. Jesus’ life and death were by no means the end of the story. They were only just the dawn of a wonderful new beginning.
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